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Franklin principal's initiative tackles needed aid

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When the new Franklin Community High School principal saw how many students were passing a required algebra exam on their second try, he knew the school needed to do more to prepare them for the test.

Last spring about 19 percent of the Franklin students who retook the end-of-course assessment — meaning they’d failed the exam at least once as eighth-graders or freshmen — passed, Franklin Principal Doug Harter said. By comparison, about 44 percent of the Whiteland Community High School students retaking the Algebra I exam passed last spring, counselor Laura Ehringer said.

Harter wanted to know what his high school was doing to help students who weren’t passing the Algebra I exam. That exam and the English 10 end-of-course exam are both required for graduation.

When he found out nothing was being done he made creating a plan for those students one of his first priorities as the high school’s new principal.

“We didn’t have a plan for those kids who didn’t pass it the first time. What are we doing to help them? Are we just hoping they pass the second time? We have to have a plan in place,” he said.

Next semester Franklin sophomores who either haven’t passed the Algebra I exam or who are in Algebra I and may need extra help will meet with math teachers at least once a week to prepare for exam. The goal is for 80 percent of Franklin’s sophomores to have passed the Algebra I exam by the end of the school year.

Next year, Harter will begin meeting with the high school’s English teachers to create a similar plan for students who haven’t passed the English 10 exam, he said.

Whiteland students who are retaking the exams there spend extra time working with English and algebra teachers about a month before taking the test again in December and in the spring. And Greenwood students who have failed either exam are placed in English and algebra labs that reteach them the lessons they don’t understand.

Students need to be able to pass both exams to graduate, but they also need to master the material on the exams in order to succeed in classes they’ll take as juniors and seniors, said Rick Ahlgrim, Greenwood’s director of secondary education.

“If you have a deficit in the skills and knowledge of the prior years, it does make the current year a real challenge,” he said.

Students take the end-of-course exams for the first time in the spring. They typically take the Algebra I exam as eighth-graders or freshmen, and the English 10 exam as sophomores. Students can pass their English and algebra courses without passing the exam, and if they fail they can retest in December and again in the spring.

The grades high schools receive from the state in the A-F Accountability system depend in part on students’ passing rates on the exams, Harter said.

Currently about 54 percent of Franklin’s 433 sophomores have passed the Algebra I exam. Sixty-six sophomores have failed the exam, and 135 students are taking Algebra I now and will take the test for the first time in the spring, Harter said.

Next semester, students who haven’t passed the Algebra I exam, as well as 52 of the sophomores in Algebra I whose teachers think they may need help understanding what’s being taught, will begin meeting with math teachers. The meetings will happen during Franklin’s 72-minute weekly schoolwide study hall. Students will meet with teachers in groups of 12 or 13 and review lessons that they either missed on the test or are having problems understanding in class, Harter said.

“We’re being very intentional about who we’re targeting,” he said.

Next year, Harter also wants to begin giving Algebra I students new assessments throughout the year that can better track what lessons students do and don’t understand. Teachers use similar assessments in elementary and middle school classes, and they can better prepare students to pass the exam when they know where they need extra help, Harter said.

At Greenwood Community High School, students who don’t pass either of the exams continue taking the math or English course they’re on track for. For example, a sophomore who failed the English 10 exam but passed the class would go on to English 11.

But they would also be placed in an English lab with other students who failed the exam or are having problems in their English course, Ahlgrim and assistant principal Todd Garrison said.

The labs for algebra and English use computer programs that assess students’ abilities and show which lessons they don’t understand. With that information, teachers can create individualized lessons that are more helpful to those students than what would be taught in traditional English or algebra classes, Garrison said.

Whiteland had similar labs for students years ago but had to eliminate them because the high school didn’t have enough teachers to run them, Ehringer said. The school still provides an English lab for freshmen.

Between 250 and 300 Whiteland students have to retake one or both of the end-of-course exams this year. To prepare those students, the high school sends them to work with either algebra or English teachers twice a week — or four times if they’ve failed both tests.

During the high school’s 40-minute open periods, the students are put into classroom-size groups to review lessons they missed on the exam with the teachers, Ehringer said.

“This is a period where our teachers and students are both available, to give them that specific time,” Ehringer said.

At the end of the year Whiteland’s algebra and English teachers will meet to review whether the high school needs to make any changes to better help students who didn’t pass one or both of the exams the first time, Ehringer said.

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